I had the pleasure of meeting Spain-based adventure, lifestyle, and portrait photographer Duncan Kendall, one of our area photographers, at a recent WM company outing to a Phillies game. Being a new employee, and coming from more of a TV production background rather than still photography, I leapt at the chance to talk shop with the native Brit. Though we did discuss other subjects, such as British history, the World Cup, and favorite beers; he also shared some of his photography secrets with me while the sounds and sights of baseball surrounded us.
Number one on Duncan’s list of characteristics every field photographer should possess: adaptability.
When you’re shooting in the field, you’ve got to improvise. If you don’t have something you need, you can’t just send the assistant back to the car when you’re standing in the middle of a river in Scotland. You can’t lose your shit. Especially when you’re working with the Army.
Duncan is referring to his shoot during the freezing month of February in the aptly named Hells Cauldron on the River Nith in Southwest Scotland. As you can see from the photos, the water was the consistency of a “slush puppy,” the British equivalent of our Slurpees, and the river was raging for Duncan’s shoot day — which made for interesting circumstances while shooting kayaking!
Duncan’s mission was to shoot action images for use in UK Army Recruitment— specifically to follow kayaking competitor Lance Bombadier Ben Stickland as he navigated the icy waters of the River Nith. The photographer’s challenge was to find a suitable and safe place to stand in the water while capturing Ben’s adeptness at handling rapids. In this case, Duncan found an eddy (a current of water running contrary to the main current) caused by a rock that he could stand behind. Here’s the end result:
Duncan didn’t just happen to get this shot as the kayaker was passing, as one might assume. He put a lot of thought into it. This began with scouting the location and finding the rock and ensuing eddy, after which he had two “blokes” from the Army hold the front of the kayak in place against the rock. The kayaker, Ben, did most of the work paddling in order to keep the end of the kayak from spinning downstream. There was also an assistant to the right of the image with portable battery flashlights. Duncan’s biggest concern while shooting was slipping into the river, but the choice over who to save, himself or the camera, was never a question. The camera always comes first.
The kayaker, Ben, then went on to compete in the kayaking competition after their shoot. Who knew that joining the British Army could be so much fun? Duncan clearly got the job done with these images. We end our conversation by talking about what Duncan learned from the shoot:
As with every shoot, you’re constantly evolving. It’s not just about you, it’s about teamwork and planning, and being able to solve problems on the fly. It’s a controlled calm.